Wednesday, November 06, 2013

For Nurses, "Just" Is A Four-Letter Word

If you're a nurse, when was the last time you said, "Oh, I'm just a nurse" or "I'm not really an expert--I'm just a nurse"? If you stop to think about it, what are you really saying when you deny your expertise? Words are powerful, and the words we use to describe ourselves can have far-reaching effects--for others, and within our own psyches.

For a number of years, I've used the soapbox of this blog to cajole nurses to embrace their nurse identity while also embracing their individual and collective value as skilled clinicians.

Like I've said before, nurses have been voted the most trusted professionals in the United States every year for the last 12 years for good reason, and that's because, whether we feel like experts or not, the general public views us as honest and knowledgeable professionals with whom they trust their lives--and the lives of their loved ones.
 
Sadly, many nurses simply don't feel like experts, and the common use of the above-mentioned phrase--"I'm just a nurse"--demonstrates for us the fact that nurses suffer from collective low self-esteem. 

While some nurses are clearly more expert than others (or more educated, experienced or specialized in their practice), every nurse is an expert in some way, shape or form. Having survived nursing school, learned how to be a nurse, developed specialized assessment skills and been issued a license to practice, you deserve to call yourself an expert.

Face it, you're a nurse and you're an expert when it comes to being a nurse. And in the eyes of the general public, you're part of a special breed whom they see as either angels, saints or some other superlative creature.

Of course, your nursing career itself is a creature that will only continue to grow and evolve, and that ongoing evolution is a wonderful thing. Nurses are required to participate in continuing education in order to maintain and renew their license, but many nurses also seek out education and specialization because they're professionals who want to always be learning something new, increasing their level of knowledge, skill and expertise--and that's a wonderful thing.

When I coach nurses, I try to instill in my clients the undeniable fact that they are indeed experts. I also make the demand that they never again say "I'm just a nurse." Using that small "four-letter word"--just--is an affront to who you are and what you do. In this context, "just" is a diminishing term, a word whose purpose is to relieve you of authority, intelligence, and your undeniable importance.

You are not "just" a nurse. You're a nurse, and nurses can be described as both the lifeblood and the backbone of the entire healthcare industry. Take away nurses, and the system as a whole would cease to function.

We're not simple handmaidens to the all-knowing physicians (like it was in the bad old days). We're skilled in the art and science of nursing, and this art/science is made more powerful by decades of research, practice, theory, skill-building and knowledge accumulation.

You are not "just" a nurse. You are a nurse. Period. And you deserve to erase that one particular four-letter word from your nursing vocabulary.
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